Twenty years ago this week, a jury acquitted the Los Angeles policemen who beat motorist Rodney King, and the city exploded in a six-day riot. Before it was over, there were more than 50 deaths, about 2,500 injuries, and half a billion dollars or more in property damage. The riot led to alarming predictions that a new age of urban unrest might be at hand. What happened in the next two decades, though, was very nearly the opposite: Cities in the United States have been relatively riot-free over the last two decades.
But that peace should not make us feel too smug. The lack of rioting in urban America lately is primarily because of the competence of law enforcement agencies — including, notably, the Boston Police Department — not because we have solved the problems of race and poverty that can fuel rioting.